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“Necessity” is the argument of tyrants

Fri, Jun 16th, 2006
Posted in Commentary

For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King: and there ought to be no other.Thomas Paine This Congress has been missing in action when it comes to oversight and preserving the powers of Congress and the separation of powers. It now has its’ “knickers in a knot” over the kind of incursion of its’ powers least likely to be viewed sympathetically and understood by the public. It appears a Democratic Representative has been caught, more or less red handed, with his hand in a bribery cookie jar. Even the Republicans initially jumped to his defense to the extent of objecting to the methods used by the administration. The House Judicial Committee has had law professors testifying to the unconstitutionality of it all. Who can blame Bush and Alberto for thinking Congress would roll over on this blatant attempt at intimidation of Congress. They have been compliant on “detainee” torture, transfer of “detainees” to countries where torture occurs, overseas prisons, warrantless wiretapping, and domestic spying.Senator Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has indicated he will conduct committee hearings in June on the little known practice, abused by Bush, the signing statement.Signing statements are not specifically mentioned or permitted in the Constitution or the amendments. They have been used properly, according to past Attorneys General, for four reasons. First, to explain the Presidents’ opinion of the likely effect of the act. Secondly, to direct subordinates in the executive branch how to interpret and administer the act. Third, to inform Congress and the public about provisions in the bill that may, under certain conditions, be unconstitutional if enforced and should not be enforced under those conditions. Fourth, to establish a legislative history to which the courts are expected to consider when interpreting the act. The first two are considered valid, the latter two more questionable. Until 1981 there were only 75 signing statements by Presidents signing laws. Reagan started the ball rolling and from 1981 to 2000 there were 247. In the next 5 years Bush attached 435 signing statements.Bush uses signing statements as line item vetoes. The Supreme Court has determined the only law that allowed line vetoes was unconstitutional. By using a signing statement Bush does not risk a Congressional veto override.Bush and Cheney lobbied hard to defeat the McCain anti-torture bill. When it passed with a veto proof margin he met, in a photo-op, with McCain and told the public how pleased he was to work with McCain to pass the bill. His signing statement said, in effect, if I think circumstances warrant it I will ignore this law I have just signed. This signing statement was an insult to Congress and Senator McCain. The honest and constitutional thing to do was to veto the bill if Bush does not plan to instruct the executive agencies to abide by the letter and intent of the law. This, of course, would overtly place the United States in the category of a rogue nation. It is a telling fact that a nation (the United States) who is a signatory of the Geneva Convention even feels the necessity of passing this type of legislation.We can only hope the committee meeting of Senator Specter results in Congress stiffening their spine. We should all encourage Senator Specter and his committee to do what ever they can to bolster the fortitude of Congress in protecting its’ powers and prerogatives. Both Congress and the courts need to act as the intended constitutional check on this imperial presidency.The recent stirring of fear and malaise in incumbent members of both houses has resulted in some evidence of rebellion. There are so many reasons for Congress to exert their prerogatives it is astonishing the immigration issue has exposed the great “uniter” for the great divisor. He has managed to divide the Republicans into two groups, one pandering to business who want cheap labor, the other pandering to xenophobia and the far right who are still stuck on creating fear about our borders.The Cato Institute (who make Cheney and Goldwater look like socialists) in their white paper, Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush, summed it up thus: “under (the president’s) sweeping theory of executive power, the liberty of every American rests on nothing more than the grace of the White House. It is not supposed to be that way.“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom: it is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” William Pitt

Robert Sauer lives in Preston.

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